Out Stealing Horses

out stealing horses

I finished Out Stealing Horses on Saturday morning, before meeting with my book club in the afternoon. I was relieved it was over.  I’d dragged 9 days to read such a short book and couldn’t believe it.  So, how come big books get the bad rap so much?

I was expecting something different than what I got.  Actually, the description on the back cover is slightly misleading.  In spite of that, it was good for me but not great. It’s the story of a 67 year old retiree who is living out in the countryside in an old run down house that he’s just bought and is renovating himself.  The story takes place in Norway and the glacially cold landscapes and dark silent nights develop into a story that is both surprising and very melancholy. I can’t say more than that. The little you know about the plot the better off your reading experience. Speaking of the reading experience, Petterson’s writing is simple and undeviating, from his descriptions of the landscape to Trond’s personal feelings. It is perfectly written from the first person, while interchanging with flashbacks.  However, I had a problem with the quiet, slow pace, and depressing tone of this book. There were several times when I started out reading and wound up falling asleep.  Yes there were some slow areas.

Having not read much Scandinavian literature, reading this one made we wonder about the way Scandinavian authors tell stories.  It seems to be very different from the anglo-saxon way.  It’s intriguing and seems to be very much like a puzzle and emotionally charged.  I’m interested in continuing on to read Knausgaard’s My Struggle: Book 1 or Skomsvold’s The Faster I Walk.  If anybody has read either and wants to encourage me to read one or both of them, down below is where you need to tell me all about it.

As my book club discussed the book, we wondered how well it had been translated.  There were some parts that just seemed to have nothing special happen in them and we discussed in depth the utilization of the word “special” in one part of the book.  The book is only 264 pages but even so the plot thickens and makes you wonder because Petterson doesn’t give you all the details.  His writing resembles his protagonist’s personality.  He refuses to fill in the blanks.  We as readers have to do that.  This can either drive you mad, keep you confused, or titillate your imagination.  If anything this book will spark meaningful conversation and much speculation on the different characters – why they do what they do, the outcome of their actions, and oh all the what ifs….

Favorite passage:  “The face there is no different from the one I had expected to see at age sixty-seven.  In that way I am in time with myself.  Whether I like what I see is a different question.  But it is of no importance.  There are not many people I am going to show myself to, and I only have the one mirror. To tell the truth, I have nothing against the face in the mirror. I acknowledge it, I recognise myself. I cannot ask for more.” (Out Stealing Horses, p. 98-99)

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#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 8

Day 8 – Should Be a Classic:

Standing in front of my books shelves looking through trying to find a story that should be a classic was extremely difficult.  I stopped and thought to myself.  How can I find a book that should be a classic without thinking of what exactly designates a classic.  Three words came to mind:  Timeless, Universal, and IMG_1384Truthful.  Timeless –  The story should be told so that no matter what period it is read in it doesn’t feel dated.  The novel is as if secured on ground breaking stuff.  It’s always loved and respected through time.  Universal – The novel should hold meaning and should contain emotion, information that all mankind can read, understand, and learn from.  Truthful – The novel should ring true.  It should teach us about a time period, a place, a condition, or even about a people’s plight.  According to Wikipedia, “A classic is a book accepted as being exemplary or noteworthy, for example through an imprimatur such as being listed in a list of great books, or through a reader’s own personal opinion. Although the term is often associated with the Western canon, it can be applied to works of literature from all traditions, such as the Chinese classics or the Indian Vedas.”  Yes you saw the words in the middle that are troublesome, at least they are for me, the Western canon.  I really feel we should do away with this idea of holding up the Western canon as the standard for literature because not only is it limiting but it’s inaccurate since it mostly contains white men, but that’s for another blog post.

Looking at my criteria of a classic, I can always find books that fall into one or two of these categories but all three is difficult.  In the end, I decided to go with Roots: The Saga of an American Family.  It’s the novel that has touched the most people men, women, black, white, many nationalities and over generations.  It continues to be one of the novels that people read to understand slavery.  Not to mention, it did when a special Pulitzer Prize in 1977, although no Pulitzer for fiction was officially awarded that year.  So, what novel today would you choose to be a classic?  What’s your definition of a classic?

#ReadSoulLit Photo Challenge – Day 2

Day 2 – A Novel about Family:

Family is so important, but yet is so complex.  It’s what supports us through difficulty and through happy eventsIMG_1319 but can tear us to shreds and drive us batty through others.  There are many interesting books out there where family is the focus and it seems the more dysfunctional the better the story.  In my opinion, one of the novels that stood out in an African-American novel about family is If Beale Street Could Talk by James Baldwin.

Tish and Fonny are a young African-American couple in love.  It’s Harlem in the 1970s and Sonny has been arrested and accused of a crime he hasn’t committed.  Here’s where family comes in.  Tish’s family is supportive and sacrificing because they believe in Tish and Fonny’s love, and equally in Fonny’s innocence, where Fonny’s family can’t wait for the ordeal to be over with, so that they can get on with their shallow, useless, and unsuccessful lives.  They aren’t willing to do anything for Tish and unfortunately not for their son.  If Beale Street Could Talk does an excellent job of depicting the fall out of family and life in the seventies for a black man unjustly accused.

 

6. The Slap

Well finally finished last night very late!  Frankly I didn’t think I would get through it.  The beginning had so much cursing and bad sex, I couldn’t believe it.  As the story advances, the principal themes start to become more clear.  It’s basically a story of friends and is set in Australia, specifically Melbourne.  The main characters are Hector, Anouk, Harry, Connie, Rosie, Manolis, Aisha, and Richie. The writer has given a section to each character.   You learn about the characters’ background and how they are related to the other characters mentioned.  Some of the themes are parenting, “being” Australian, alcoholism, domestic violence, aging, motherhood, family loyalty, homosexuality, drug abuse, marriage and fidelity.  I may have forgotten a few but it’s a very vast list, too vast.

Actually, I think there are too many themes running through the story.  I think it’s for this reason that things are often exaggerated.  It’s all in your face!

Tsiolkas tells the story from eight points of view where the characters question their desires, fears, and expectations.  In the beginning of the novel, there is a family barbecue which turns into a disaster when an adult slaps an indomitable three-year old. The slap and its consequences force the characters to evaluate their family life and the way they live.  The slap is the commencement of much retrospect which in turn brings out much jealousy, lying, and mistrust among the characters.  As things progress, the story becomes more interesting because the scope of the characters is better developed and more interesting to read towards the end.  I think my favorite sections are Aisha and Anouk.  The majority of the characters are far from likeable because they sometimes do such despicable things but the core and themes of the story are what keep you reading.

Christos Tsiolkas has written Loaded (was turned into a feature film called Head-On), The Jesus Man, and Dead EuropeThe Slap was longlisted for the Man Booker and was adapted for television on ABC 1.  Tsiolkas is also a screenwriter, essayist, and playwright.

I’d recommend reading The Slap if you’re interested in a bite of Australia.  The lifestyle is very much alive in the novel.  Although the  first 150 pages are probably the most difficult.  You will either hang on for dear life, which I did because I was reading it for my book club today or drop it like a hot potato. I finished it at 10pm on Friday.  I started counting how many times the f—-word was used.  When I counted up to 50 and I was only at the beginning it started to get on my nerves.  Someone mentioned that this was probably the way this class really speaks in Australia, but I’m not so sure.  Someone else today mentioned that a lot of the cursing was what the characters were thinking.  A lot of us found that the dialogue of these eight characters sure sounded alike, whether man, woman, old or young-not ver realistic.  I remember my Australian friends from Egypt and they are nothing like the men described in The Slap, nor do they speak the way they do in this book.  Then I thought could it be that they are not from the same class!  It’s really too bad there are no Australians in our book club.  We could have then got a better idea of what was realistic and what was stereotypic.  Despite all the bad things we said about The Slap, we did find a few redeeming aspects to the story.  I won’t get into details because I don’t want to write any spoilers.  We did have a good laugh and extensive discussion.  I’d give it about three and a half stars out of five, but I most definitely won’t be reading it again.

I don’t know much about Australian literature and the only other Australian I’ve read is Kathy Lette. I guess her writing would be considered Chick Lit, but it’s a funny and relaxing read.  Someone suggested that I read Peter Carey, so I’m going to check him out.  Hope to get one of his novels on my 50 read books list of 2012.  I’ll keep searching for more examples so that I can maybe finally come to some conclusion about Australian literature.  For the moment it’s a bit of a mystery…..

Check out the trailer for The Slap!  It seems to follow the book quite closely.  I can definitely see how this will keep audiences glued to the television in the evening.

The Slap – ABC 1 Trailer